Walker aiming for another year of Distinction

Newly-crowned Singapore champion trainer Mark Walker might have been a runaway leader for most of 2017, but was yet again, still a notable absentee at feature race winner’s circles.

The five-time New Zealand champion trainer took off midway through the year to go and notch a second local title following the first one secured in 2015, comfortably holding off Ricardo Le Grange by 22 winners.

But as has been a pattern to his Kranji campaigns since relocating from Matamata in 2010, none of his 87 wins came in any of the 26 Group races on offer this year.

Walker typically turns out many bread-and-butter horses, the majority hailing from New Zealand, but has never really had any top guns, with Flying Fulton and War Affair in his juvenile year the exceptions. Besides, those two between them gave him seven of his eight feature wins, with the last coming from Sebrose in the Group 3 El Dorado Classic in November 2015.

Distinctive Darci will be newly-crowned Singapore champion trainer Mark Walker's first feature runner for 2018, picture Singapore Turf Club

At the traditional curtain raiser of the new 2018 season on January 1, the $200,000 Group 3 New Year Cup, which is for the first time sharply dropped from 1900m to 1200m, Distinctive Darci will be the one carrying Walker’s hopes.

Walker, who boasts one New Year Cup to his name (Flying Fulton in 2012), returns to Singapore on Thursday after a well-deserved break on the Gold Coast, but his right-hand man Gus Clutterbuck (pictured above) has not been loafing around during the three-week break.

Fielding a 11-strong team in the 11-race programme of the inaugural day, Walker looks to have some decent chances to keep his 2017 momentum flowing, not only with Distinctive Darci but also with a few others like impressive debut winner Elite Invincible and Kingsman.

“We’ve had a great 2017 season, and after a nice break, we will kick off with 60 horses, but the key now is to get new horses to come through,” said Clutterbuck.

“Distinctive Darci has done well since his last start (flying third to Skywalk in a Kranji Stakes A race over 1200m on December 3). He seems to have everything in his favour in Monday’s race.

“He’s been very consistent, even on grass, but for some reason, he goes better over Polytrack.

“We have spaced his runs with a month in between. He has maintained his form and will have his last gallop tomorrow.

“He needs to be kept balanced as he’s such a big strider. Craig Grylls will ride him for the first time on Monday.

“He should be thereabouts.”

But the stable runners bound to draw the larger share of admirers would be Elite Invincible and Kingsman. Both shoulder 57kgs and will get two kilos of relief from Walker’s apprentice jockey Zawari Razali.

“Zawari will ride both Elite Invincible and Kingsman. Both horses are young, especially Elite who is three, and that’s why we can’t be too tough on them as they are still acclimatising,” said Clutterbuck.

“Elite is racing again over 1200m. It’s a bit short as we think he will get more ground, but there is nothing for him at the moment.”

An Irish-bred by Archarcharch, Elite Invincible unleashed a blinding turn of foot on debut in a Class 4 race over 1200m to on December 1. On the same day, Kingsman was up in class after a victorious debut in a Class 4 race over 1200m, losing no marks to run a close second to Elusive Emperor.